One Step at a Time

Life’s waves of turmoil and despair are crashing over me non-stop, with one knocking me over and another on top of it before the prior one subsides. So, what else is new? We all go through periods of strife and pain. But, why so much, God? Why now?

As life flies by, faster each day, I find it harder to digest all that happens. First, it’s a lack of a job. Then, the loss of connection with long time friends, followed by children that move away, both physically and mentally. The hardest of all is the mental loss.

What did I do wrong? Why is my child avoiding me? My first reaction is to blame myself. I did something to alienate him. My opinions on politics, the country and the world don’t match my child’s. Okay, so that’s not the worst thing that could happen. I am thankful that he is living and well; successful in his work, happy (seemingly) with lots of friends.

There is a change, however. A gradual movement to fewer visits; visits for big events such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, or a birthday being the ones worthy of the effort of traveling. They are short affairs, with the exit at the end of the visit quick and early. It’s like, if there is too much time spent together, something might be said or done that is disagreeable.

Are there issues hiding behind the smiling facade? Secrets that would be uncomfortable if shared? Has something happened that is too painful, or objectionable to speak of? Doesn’t my grown child know how much I love him? How much I would do for him; even if I don’t like things now central in his life?  That’s what unconditional love is all about. But, the same unconditional love also means doing the hard things; saying what needs to be said only because it is for the good of the receiver and it is said in love.

My husband loves to tell me (too often I think!) that truth hurts. We can know in our hearts that what is said is for our well-being, but in our heads, it hurts and we want to shun it. It comes down to the fact do we trust the person who tells us these things in love, or do we trust what the world tells us that is not necessarily the best for us or even the truth.

This is my real fear; that my child will believe the world’s lies before listening to, or even considering that what I say is the truth spoken in love. I fear he will be misled, lured down a road of lies, deceit and even betrayal. I fear that it is a road that could end in spiritual death.

When gazing upon the world’s current stage of events, it is easy to see how so many are affected by the emotion of the masses. Little to no consideration is given to the truth of matters discussed (more like shouted and screamed and threatened). Too few stop to consider the true consequences of their actions, both on themselves and on others. The pleasure of the moment, or what seems to be the politically correct thing to do, often outweighs the rationale or sanity on any given issue.

I look at these things and want to wrap my arms around my child and whisper in his ear to be wary, to watch out for the handsome devil, the cleaver deceiver. I want to beg him to stear clear of the lies that tickle one’s ears; ones that are used to coerce and manipulate.

As I take this unwelcome and uninvited journey, I realize I must give up control over the situation and plead with God for His mercy and justice. Daily, I beg Him to intervene and do what He knows is best and to help me let go of what I think is better.  I pray to Him to intervene in the life of my child and his eternal fate. As my knees get calloused, I slowly acknowledge it is out of my hands. It is only His hands, which are bigger and stronger, that can hold onto my child, and me at the same time.  And, through it all, faith is the only lamp I have to light the pathway in front of me, one step at a time.

Big Pharma, Friend or Enemy?

My "Big Pharma"

My “Big Pharma”

Everyday it seems we are subjected to yet another “new” study that insists we must do this or that to better our health. Sadly, so may accept these “announcements” as total truth without doing any background research on the subject. Being constantly bombarded by media, we tend to start believing everything we hear. Since it’s coming from the news, it has to be true. Does it? Really?

As I mentioned in my last post, most anyone can concoct a stunning web site and post most any information on it. And because it looks professional, it immediately gains credibility with the reader. Again, really?!!!

I too, have been fooled by snazzy sites and flashy reports that claim to have the “only” way to make my life better. A blog I follow, and have found to have mostly good information, recently came under attack for “selling” items and information on the site. The author responded with an apology, but said that was the only way he could afford to continue posting the info. It’s a shame that he has to do this, but certainly understandable. In today’s business models, profit is important, and even just generating enough to cover costs is necessary. A necessary evil we all live with.

But, I digress. I didn’t start this post to complain about business and the economy. Actually it is due to a recent article I saw on the web regarding cholesterol. As we age (and I’ve done my fair share of it!), we all get more and more concerned with the issue. Lately, I’ve read a number of articles slamming the mainstream cholesterol medications as being bad for us. And there are just as many out there preaching we must do (eat and take) all that the mainstream medical profession says we should.

We should all be aware of the fact that “Big Pharma” spends boat loads of money trying to influence the front line of health care providers to prescribe their drugs. Yes, there is very much a profit motive. But, at what cost, our health?

With new research and the spate of lawsuits regarding fairly recent drugs, (can you say Xarelto, Avandia, and many others?) those who are astute in following these developments have a very real reason to fear what might be forced on them by well meaning health care practitioners. Sadly, most people receiving health care don’t bother to read up on the drugs they are prescribed and many do not follow recent developments in the pharmaceutical industry.

Granted, there are many great drugs out there. And my heart goes to all front-line health care practitioners as they have a very difficult and stressful job. I believe they are following the guidelines given to them with the full intent of doing what is best for the patient. The trouble is, the Big Pharma companies don’t have the same goal. They are about money, and more money. And that is the conflict of it all.

In my book, Against Their Will, this mentality prevails. Scientists, hired in secret by the US Government, have discovered a new class of drugs that show serious potential to cure a lot of diseases. Even more importantly, they see how they can use their discoveries to make big money. It doesn’t matter to them the human life cost. They are immune. Their instructions are to produce the drug and multiply it at all costs.

When I first started writing this book, these assumptions were considered scandalous. Sadly, it is so much more believable today that it is downright frightening.

What can we do? Do we have any options? Or, do we have no choice but to comply? I believe it is up to each individual to determine this. However, there are things we can do.

We can find informative sources and research them to determine their credibility and therefore make our own decisions. We can search for and engage health care providers who understand our concerns and work with us to find solutions. And, we can say no. No to what is being prescribed. No to what is being strongly suggested we must take to save our lives. No, to those who don’t care about us and our health, but care more for their own pocketbook.

We need to open our eyes and decide for ourselves what is best for us and take advice from those we truly trust and know have our best interests in mind. Being responsible for our self in every way, especially our health, is the only hope we have.

Making Characters Work for You

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

We’ve discussed memorable characters and briefly touched on some of the qualities that make them work. But what really makes a character work in a story, movie or book?

For those of you who watched the tv series, Breaking Bad, you’ve seen great characters at work. The series has characters you can relate to; love, hate and even feel sorry for. But, if you were really into the series, you can say one thing, there is no character there that does not elicit some type of reaction from the viewer. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

In dissecting the issue, let’s look at some of the character traits. Walter White is faced with a life threatening situation. He also is strongly motivated to provide for his family. He’s so motivated that he is willing to do just about anything to accomplish his goal. In seeking that goal, he goes out on many limbs and does things that no one, well at least most anyone would ever expect of him.

Then, look at Jesse. He is also pulled into Walter’s world and while his motivations are drastically different, he embarks on a journey with Walter that changes him profoundly. They have conflict, dramatically different views on many things, but as they progress through their journey together, they also learn how the other looks at things. Even when they disagree, they slowly develop a semblance of respect for the other.

Okay, so I’ve oversimplified things – I didn’t want to do any “spoiling” for those who have not seen the show. But, these characters are very complex. There are no simple solutions to their dilemmas and their motivations are not all about any one thing, but arise from different layers in each of their lives. They are not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted. They can feel sympathy for something simple or complex. They can react with rage over big or small events. They can withdraw or lash out because of situations encountered. And all of these things can create tension; between the characters and between the characters and events, or objects, that create some dissonance in their psyche.  All of these add interest and tension.

Interest and tension. One creates the other. Create tension between two or more characters and interest blooms. Create even more tension, distress, conflict, or whatever to put characters at odds with each other or their environment, and interest grows. Interest keeps the viewer and the reader engaged.

Much has been said about making sure characters encounter conflict. It is true that this is the basis for tension which is what keeps people on the edges of their seats, or as an author wants more than anything, readers turning the pages!

Food for thought and hopefully, a little stirring of the juices here! Until next time – happy writing!

Twelve Gifts for Writers

Give them time – Writers get pressures pushed on them all the time by those who either don’t have a clue or who sit in judgment as to what they really fill their time with. Give the gift of time to your writer; be considerate. If you want or need them to do something besides write, ask with hope and genuine understanding that you know what they’re doing is important.

Image courtesy of cescassawin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Giving precious gifts to others doesn’t always require money or gift wrap!Image courtesy of cescassawin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Give them understanding – Even if you don’t know what it’s like to be under a deadline, or the pressure of being creative, let them know you are trying to understand. Writers work as hard as anyone else, but because they usually do it on their own time, not their bosses time, so many people jump to erroneous conclusions that they must be lazy or really don’t have work to do and then make erroneous judgements on the writer’s work ethic.

Give them reasonable expectations – Just as we all struggle to fit everything that is demanded of us into our days, writers do as well. How we communicate to writers about what we want or need determines the level of pressure the writer feels in meeting those unspoken expectations.

Give them encouragement – Encourage them in their work. Even if you don’t understand what it is like to be a writer, let them know you’re supportive and are wishing them the best. Writers need encouragement, from those who write and those who don’t.

Give them space – Don’t constantly ask them to go to lunch, or to this event or that function. This is not to say writers don’t need a break. But if you ask and the answer is no, let them know you understand. Reaffirm that you would love to get together but on their time frame.

Give them help with daily chores or duties – If you are the spouse of a writer, or even the roommate of one, help them out when they are deep in the middle of a tangled plot line and can’t stop to put the dishes in the dishwasher. They may lose that all important train of thought that solves the mystery of the primary characters!

Give them peace and quiet – If your writer works while you are in the same space, try to be considerate and let them have few to no distractions while working. Compromise is the great truth to this scenario. And it can go both ways. By giving your writer some space, you’ll most likely get consideration as well. When that big game is on, shouts and screams for your team won’t get snarled at – unless your writer roots for the opposite side!

Give them protection from distractions – If your writer is busy at work and the phone rings (yours or the home’s) don’t wait and make the writer get it. The same goes for if someone is at the door.

Give them your ear – Listen to your writer. Encourage them to talk about their plot, or their characters. Don’t be too eager to jump into the conversation but rather encourage them to talk by asking questions, or for clarification. This is helpful in it gets the writer to think about his or her work and can often led them into new insights on their work.

Give them your support – Support is really one that sums up several of the other items. But it also includes being their for your writer when they get that 100th rejection letter, or they inadvertently lost everything from chapter 15 due to forgetting to hit the “save” button. Sometimes writers, like all of us, just need to know someone else stands on the same side with them.

Give them your honesty – If you are asked to read a portion of the writer’s work; be honest. Being honest is telling the truth but with love/gentleness and so on wrapped around it. Like, “Gee, I know you’ve been working so hard on this piece, but for me, I just don’t think the male character is a good fit for your protagonist. I envision something more like. . .” Cushion the criticism by making it only your opinion and stating your preferences, not what you think it should or should not be.

Give them your unconditional love – Finally, give your writer some love. When we hear the word love, we usually think romantic love. But, there are many more types of love to give and receive in life. While you’ve been encouraged to give honesty, support, your ear, encouragement and space to your writer friends and family, more importantly, you can give them your unconditional love. This means that no matter what he or she does, you will still love them. This makes a safe place for anyone to retreat to whenever the world gets too rough or sour and one needs to “lick their wounds” and retreat. Loving someone unconditionally means that no matter what they do, they can be forgiven and not lose their standing with the person who is doing the forgiving. This type of love has almost become a foreign concept in today’s world. But, many years ago, Unconditional love was born in a lowly manger, born to take on all the bad things each and every one of us does in our life time. And there is nothing we can do to earn His love and forgiveness. It is given freely. Once we accept this free gift of forgiveness, we learn that we are loved, no matter what, and that is the most liberating gift anyone, not just writers, can receive.

Merry Christmas and don’t just give these gifts to your writer, but to anyone in your life.

 

 

Distorted Words

Distorted thinking. Most people hear this term and think some type of mental dysfunction is at play. But in reality, we all are affected by distortion in our lives.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

We get so used to it, however, that after a while, we don’t see it or even notice it.

So, what does this have to do with writing? First of all, when writing, it is very easy to “get lost” in the story, the characters or even the setting. We see our work as “complete” when in reality it may be missing key pieces, such as words, punctuation, or even information that was intended to be included but left out.

Writing distortion can happen to anyone. You don’t have to be a new writer to suffer from it. In fact, seasoned writers may be more prone to distortion since they have developed a routine of writing that causes the brain to develop a picture of what is perceived and therefore makes it harder to detach from that picture and actually see missing words or words that are out of place.

It is frustrating to read works that are well thought out, executed and meaningful only to see the word that should have been deleted, or is the wrong tense, or uses the wrong “two” instead of the correct “too” glaring at you. It’s like an email you get that tells you “your” going to love whatever it is they are selling. Instead, most likely “you’re” going to by-pass that message, dismissing it because of the glaring mis-use of a word. I could just scream!

I recently read an excellent, fast-paced, and thrilling novel. It was truly one that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The problem? I lost count after finding thirty-five “distortions” (words missing or unnecessary, ones that made no sense, or had the wrong spelling) in the first chapter alone. I enjoyed the book but let the author know that a good and thorough copy edit was needed.

And this brings up the whole point of editing. We all need it! We need someone other than ourselves to carefully read through and check for these types of mistakes. In this day and age of computers, spell checks and even predictive text, it is easier than ever to overlook these distorted words.  It happens to every writer.

Yeah, I know. Not every writer can afford a professional edit. But the truth is, even if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, most authors, unless already well known, are responsible for the edit. So, how does a writer deal with such things?

Get a friend to read your manuscript. Be open to any suggestions made. If you have a friend who teaches or is a big reader; especially of the genre you are writing, even better. Again, it may not be the high priced edit, but it will help you get your work to the place you want it to be.

Another option is to put your manuscript in a drawer or somewhere that it won’t constantly remind you of its presence. This only works if deadlines are not in play! After your work has aged appropriately, pull it out and savor your words. Look at each one slowly and without haste. Judge it as if it is a fine wine that only gets better with time. Imperfections will show up easier and you won’t be as likely to overlook them. Even with this route, it is still a great idea to have another person read it, preferably someone who did not read it earlier.

None of us is perfect and that will never change. We can work to be the best we can be, with each attempt improving us and our talent. Even though we all know we won’t achieve perfection, we can reach for this goal and that makes for work that is worth attention, good, positive attention. We want to be noticed, but for all the right reasons.

Go grab that glass of wine. Swirl it about your glass. Notice the fine details. Consider how the meniscus marks the side of the glass. Study the clarity of the liquid. Inhale the vapors and savor the aroma. Don’t be afraid of age, both in the wine and in your work. Both can produce an even better product. Cheers!

How Not to Write a Book

Off chasing yet another tangent

Off chasing yet another tangent

From time to time I am asked where did I get the inspiration for and how did I plot Against Their Will. The answer is one that often surprises people, especially those who are preparing to write their own books. I simply started with a couple of people I could visualize, adapted a real life event in my own life and inserted them into it. After that event concluded, I had no idea where the book was going next or where it would end up. I just had two characters who had experienced a cataclysmic event in their lives. For those organized and perhaps anal writers, this is not the way to start! But, I will admit, I am a free-thinker, and being creative, I don’t want to be “boxed in” by parameters, especially those set by others. My husband often accuses me of deliberately doing the opposite of what I am told to do, just because I can. And, I do! It drives him crazy, but I’m happy.

When I started on my first novel (long since buried in the trash can), I wrote what I liked to read. I still do. Reading a variety of other works, and a good dose of those that fall into the same genre as what I am writing in, helps me to develop my own voice and style. This initially didn’t help me with the plotting conundrum, but as I have learned to step back and analyze my work, what I learn from other writers makes a big contribution to my own development. I’m not advocating any kind of plagiarism, but rather the studying the styles and methods of successful writers is a way, especially for new writers but also more experienced ones, to see the types of things that work and those that don’t work. .

Because I love thrillers and suspense novels and those are the books I want to write, I asked myself what could I do next to surprise the reader. Nineteen chapters and one prologue later, my novel was born.

Despite the challenge and fun of creating a story in this manner, I would never suggest to another author to use this method. Using an outline as a skeleton and then adding “meat” to it would be my preferred method. However, I am the kind of author that gets “lost” in the created world I am developing and it is just more fun to let the tangents rule and follow their trails in unknown directions. A pre-defined story map is often limiting to those of us who let their creative sides trump the more structured side of their writing minds.

One big set-back to the tangent writing style is the fact that it can get complicated keeping the story straight. This caused a lot of re-writes and edits in my case. It also necessitated a content edit to be sure all the dangling events were tied together and resolved.

Although I still utilize the Tangent Style of writing in my other books, I have incorporated a new method to help me focus. That is, I write the ending just as soon as I have the opening scene completed. This gives me a “finish line” or goal to achieve and helps to keep my wandering ways in check. It also helps when I get “stuck” or blocked. I re-read the ending and visualize what the characters would have had to do to get to that point. Soon after, the creative juices get flowing again and my fingers are tapping away on the keyboard.